Monday, June 8, 2009

Fred Rogers' Memorial Scholarship Awards in LA

Just attended the Fred Rogers' Memorial Scholarship Awards out here in Los Angeles at the Academy of Motion Pictures ARts and Sciences Theater in North Hollywood. It was hosted by our real-life neighbor out here, Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob who had some really great jokes in the beginning about everyone from Mr. McFeely (and his gig of playing an old man when you are young so your whole life people say how good you look) to things which SpongeBob SquarePants and Mister Rogers have in common ("they both are square, but absolutely the coolest guys in the room.)

It was great to see the young scholars get their awards from Ernst and Young-- rewarding the "good" is so important. And Josh Selig who created one of my daughter's favorite show Oobi growing up (and does Wonder Pets)-- he was exactly the guy who you wanted to be honored-- talking about serving the kids in a day when so much is driven by the advertisers.

So saw good folks from Pittsburgh who are out here also like Rusty Cundieff who directed the Chapelle Show and one of my former students, Nathan Cornett, who is doing very well out here as an editor. Nathan did great work as an associate producer/assistant camera/assistant editor on "My Tale of Two Cities" and you can see him in a cameo after the Teresa Heinz Kerry cheese shopping scene asking me whether I bought her the cheese I said I would buy her. He is one of the great young people I think Pittsburgh should bet on. And the same with Rusty. He could film a pilot back in Pittsburgh for a fraction of what it would cost out here.

"Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" is a great example of what impact developing successful "content" can have on Pittsburgh and the world. But people have to remember that first Fred went to New York to learn his skill sets as a stage manager and then decided that TV should be used more for people just throwing pies at each other (that was what Soupy Sales did, I believe.)

But the only way that will happen, I think, is if Pittsburgh either gets lucky or if it actually says to the world, "come here and make all your good stuff here-- and we'll help." You can do it, Pittsburgh. I know that because so many people have been urging Pittsburgh on in this area-- including countless Steeltown advisers ( who see opportunity there just as there was opportunity there in the late 1800s when the region had all the resources to make steel. It would be great to bring people like one of the winners, Thy, who made this interesting animation with sand to Pittsburgh and have her meet some of the talent animators who are beginning to stay in Pittsburgh. (Just look at UP and its box office to see what the potential upside is to an animation industry-- but you have to bet 100 million on one of those movies to reap the literally billio dollars a movie like ICE AGE-- made in White Plains, New York-- might make.)

It still may seem a bit delusional, but you look at the legacy of some of Pittsburgh's entertainment pioneers, Fred Rogers, and George Romero-- not to mention those nurtured there who left-- Gene Kelly, Andy Warhol, August Wilson-- and at least I say-- what other city has that legacy. And more importantly, how are you going to build on it.

As we say in My Tale of Two Cities, in some way, LA is a city Pittsburgh was a hundred years ago-- a one industry town which takes risks and where immigrants of all sorts come with their dreams. Perhaps Pittsburgh could become that once again. Perhaps with what is happening lately, it is slowly becoming that. What a great legacy it would be for Fred Rogers if Pittsburgh were the place where people brought their projects which "made good attractive", as Fred thought TV could and should do.

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